Triggerfish Fishing in Florida – Complete Guide for 2021
Apr 19, 2021 | 6 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 6 minutes

The 2021 Triggerfish season is finally upon us. As the annual January-February closure comes to an end, thousands of anglers eagerly make plans for their next Triggerfish fishing adventure.

Set to open on March 1, this year’s Florida Trigger season could see record numbers of fishermen offering their casts. The reason? The word has finally gotten out about how fun it is to catch these little guys. Oh, and did we mention that they taste even better than Snapper? Today, you’ll learn all you need to know about where and how to catch Triggerfish in Florida.

Before we get into the technical stuff, let’s take a look at what Triggerfish are and what makes them so popular.

Grey Triggerfish

Triggerfish Habitat

When people say Triggerfish, they usually mean Grey Triggerfish, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Triggers mostly inhabit the nearshore and offshore waters of the Mexican Gulf, the larger part of the East Coast, and the warm waters of the Caribbean reefs. While all of these locales provide good Triggerfish bites, Florida’s waters stand out as the most consistently productive Trigger fishery.

Triggers generally compete for the same habitat as Red Snapper and Gag Grouper. This is why it’s not uncommon for the Triggers to gobble up your bait when you’re fishing for Gags. Adult Triggerfish like to keep to the bottom, where they feast on crabs, sea urchins, shrimp, and sand dollars.

They sometimes rise up to feed, too. Juvenile Triggers drift near the surface feasting on sargassum until they are mature enough to hunt. Speaking of hunting, Triggerfish can be truly ingenious in the way they capture their prey.

When hunting sand dollars, Triggers often assume a vertical position, from which they blow a stream of water. Once they expose the sand dollar from under the sand, Triggers swoop down to grab their prey with their teeth.

They then flip the sand dollar around and drop it to fall upside down, exposing its soft underside. The Triggerfish slams into the sand dollar with full force and starts eating. What a predator.

The two areas of the Sunshine State that are becoming famous for Triggerfish fishing are the Panhandle and St. Petersburg. Here, you can find smaller Tiggerfish around inshore bottom structures, but since they tend to be pretty small as it is, so you’d do well to go a little further out for the bigger ones. The nearshore artificial reefs are teeming with Triggers, but you can find lots of them offshore, as well.

How do you recognize a Triggerfish?

Triggerfish have a few distinctive features which make them easily recognizable. Their body is laterally compressed, with two dorsal fins, and a small mouth. Triggers got their name by the spines on their dorsal fins.

To protect themselves from predators, Triggerfish lock up their pointy first dorsal fin. Once the fin is firmly locked in an erect position, there is only one way to lower it, and that’s by pushing the second dorsal fin – the “trigger.”

Triggerfish skin is unbelievably strong – you’d have a hard time piercing it even with a sharpened knife. Their mouths are small, but their strong, bony jaws have chisel-like teeth, which easily plow through mussels, sea urchins, and sand dollars.

The maximum length a Triggerfish can reach is around 30 inches, but they’re much more common in the 14–17 inch range. The biggest Trigger caught in Florida waters weighed 12 pounds, 7 ounces.

Triggerfish Fishing Regulations

Gulf of Mexico

In recent years, Triggerfish fishing in the Gulf has become more tightly regulated, but it’s still nowhere near as strict as fishing for Red Snapper.

Following the annual January-February closure, the 2021 Triggerfish season will officially open on March 1, and it will last until May 31. If you don’t get the chance to enjoy Triggerfishing, don’t worry, the reason will reopen August 1, and will last until the end of the year, December 31.

In the Gulf, the minimum size required will be 15” fork length, with a bag limit of one per person. The same goes both for state and federal waters, although there’s a 20 reef fish aggregate limit when fishing further than 9 miles out.

Atlantic

If you plan on fishing for Triggerfish in the Atlantic, you’ll be pleased to know that the season is open year-round. The minimum size requirement is 12” fork length, with 10 per person bag limit.

Despite the stricter rules, most anglers contend that fishing for Triggerfish in the Gulf is disproportionately better compared to the Atlantic. We’ll let you be the judge of that.

a Triggerfish

How to Catch Triggerfish

Triggerfish are exceptionally hard fighters, especially for their size. Their small mouths are deceptively strong, and they can snag your baits in a hurry – just ask any Snapper fisherman.

You’ll want to change your approach depending on where the fish are, but one thing remains the same – you’ll need small, sharp circle hooks. Triggers won’t be able to spit these hooks out as easily.

As for baits, Triggers will gladly go for any live bait you throw at them. That said, your best option will probably be squid, because it sticks to your hook much more firmly that other bait. An inch-wide cube should do the trick. As most Triggerfish keep to the bottom, you’ll also need a relatively heavy sinker (around six to eight ounces).

Keep it Steady

One Triggerfish fishing tactic is to drop your baited hook all the way to the bottom, and then to start reeling immediately after. You won’t need to reel fast at this point, but it’s crucial to keep the reel going.

This will maintain tension on your line, and allow you to feel even the smallest of bites. As soon as the Trigger bites, start reeling as fast as you can without jerking the rod. If the hook tip was in the Trigger’s mouth, your reel action should hook the fish.

Make sure not to jerk the rod when you feel the bite. You might have an urge to yank the rod to “set” the hook, but keeping a constant smooth reel will make all the difference. If you jerk the rod up, your sinker will most likely knock the hook out of the Trigger’s mouth. If it doesn’t knock it out on the way up, it probably do so as it comes down.

Double Whammy

Another way to catch Triggerfish is to employ a three-hook chicken rig (a modified sabiki rig). What you want to do here is take advantage of the fish instincts. Since Triggerfish like to compete for the same bait as Snapper and Grouper, your three-hook setup will prove to be too pretty to say no to.

Let your sinker hit the bottom and then pull the rig up by a foot or so. As soon as the Triggers see a Grouper moving around your offering, they will charge up from the bottom to steal it. Keep in mind that, unlike Snapper or Grouper, a Triggerfish will nib at your bait first before taking it in.

Good Hunting, Good Eating

Triggerfish might be tricky to catch, but the fight is well worth it. These fish are some of the tastiest you’ll ever try. Once you crack through the skin, their meat is very soft and firm. This allows for all sorts of Trigger delicacies.

To fillet a Triggerfish, don’t even bother trying to cut it open from the side. The only way you’ll get near the tasty meat is if you puncture it through the soft area behind the gills, and work your way down. Another way is to cut from the anal vent.

Fishing for Triggerfish seems to finally get the recognition it deserves. These little guys will put on a show before you get to reel them in, and they will make for a fantastic dinner afterwards. Now that the 2019 Triggerfish season is here, there’s nothing stopping you from going after your own feast.

Have you ever caught a Triggerfish? Are you planning to catch one this year? What’s more challenging, to catch a Triggerfish, or to cut one open? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments (10)
  • Kay

    Apr 30, 2021

    I went deep sea fishing with an outfit in Ft Lauderdale in early / mid-April 2021 and caught a bunch of these gray triggerfish. They were fun to fight in, but you really need to warn people (especially people who are not used to saltwater fishing or are not familiar with this species) that these little guys have serious TEETH! They can bite and actually hurt you! I found out taking my fish off the hook. Thank goodness I didn’t follow my first instinct of grabbing the fish by the lip, only because their mouths are very small. They have a mouthful of sharp teeth (pretty large teeth in relation to the size of the mouth) and could seriously bite the end of your finger and take a chunk out!
    I got to keep one that was large enough and eat it……very tasty!
    Happy fishing!

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      Sean

      May 4, 2021

      Hi Kay,

      Thanks for sharing, that’s some really good advice!

      You really need to be careful when handling Triggerfish because their teeth will leave a mark!

      I’m glad you got a nice keeper – these fish are seriously underrated when it comes to how good they taste.

      Thanks again for sharing, and have a great day!

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  • Ernesto Del Castillo

    Mar 30, 2021

    When no one knew the quality of the meat of triggerfish I was gobbling tons of them since late 70s. I bet that triggerfish meat has no competition. The best of the best.

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      Sean

      Mar 31, 2021

      Hi Ernesto,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Absolutely, for the longest time, Triggerfish were hugely underrated.

      Good thing you knew how tasty they were before everyone else!

      Thanks for sharing, and have a great day!

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  • Ebon Kim

    Jan 31, 2021

    Triggerfish will also come up to the surface to feed. One of the best methods is to lure the triggerfish up to the surface, where a lot of other triggerfish will also come up. They’ll pretty much take any bait, even bait like lamb, beef, chicken, pork, and sausages. When they’re up at the surface, you don’t need a sinker, they’ll pull the bait down to try and swallow it.

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      Sean

      Feb 1, 2021

      Hi Ebon,

      Thanks for sharing!

      Wow, Triggers sure are aggressive feeders, aren’t they? That’s definitely worth a shot, especially if you’re short on conventional baits.

      Thanks again, and tight lines!

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  • Kevin

    Jan 10, 2021

    Why don’t the party boats up there anchor and fish like the ones down south. I just went out 2 weeks ago out of Destin and we never anchored once and there was a lot of tangled lines.

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      Sean

      Jan 13, 2021

      Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for reaching out.

      Are you referring to a particular trip you booked through our website? I couldn’t find a booking associated with your email. Do let us know if it was, we’d like to help you leave a review of your experience.

      As for the party boats, many things can influence whether a captain decides to anchor or keep moving. Sometimes it’s rough seas, sometimes it’s not picking up anything on the fish finder. Then again, if you did drop your lines, I’m guessing that they thought that the area was good for fishing after all.

      I’m honestly not sure what to tell you in this case, as I don’t believe that not anchoring is a custom for Destin party boat fishing. Regardless, I’m sorry to hear that you had a bad experience.

      Thanks for sharing. I hope your next fishing trip goes a lot better!

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  • joe variot

    Oct 22, 2019

    What about tetrodotoxin ? Where is it in triggerfish and is it a danger ?

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      Sean

      Oct 25, 2019

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for reading.

      That’s a great question. Tetrodotoxin is a seriously potent neurotoxin, found in the liver, ovaries, and intestines of a number of fish species. However, tetrodotoxin poisoning has been almost exclusively linked to Pufferfish, Porcupine fish, and Ocean Sunfish.

      As far as Triggerfish are concerned, there are 40 species in the world, and some are said to contain tetrodotoxin. However, there hasn’t been a single recorded case of tetrodotoxin poisoning by Grey Triggerfish so far. It is more likely that the Triggerfish species native to the southern Pacific Ocean are the ones who could potentially be poisonous.

      The one potential danger with eating Grey Triggerfish is ciguatera poisoning. Fish like Snapper, Grouper, Mackerel, Barracuda and Triggerfish can contain the ciguatoxin. However, according to Florida Health, only the larger specimens are likely to carry the toxin. Therefore, consuming Grey Triggerfish smaller than 5 lb should be completely fine. For more information on ciguatera poisoning, take a look at the Florida Health guidelines.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Tight lines!

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